Hunting ban becomes law
A COUNTRYSIDE tradition dating back more than 300 years ends today as the ban on fox-hunting comes into effect.The field sport has been the subject of fierce debate since Labour promised a free vote on banning the practice in its 1997 manifesto – none more so than when MPs used the Parliament Act to force through the Hunting Bill last year.
A COUNTRYSIDE tradition dating back more than 300 years ends today as the ban on fox-hunting comes into effect.
The field sport has been the subject of fierce debate since Labour promised a free vote on banning the practice in its 1997 manifesto - none more so than when MPs used the Parliament Act to force through the Hunting Bill last year.
Hunts across the region staged a "last tally-ho" yesterday before the new legislation came into force at midnight.
Hunt supporters view the ban as a direct attack on their way of life from urban dwellers preoccupied with massaging their moral conscience. They say the law will put people's livelihoods under threat.
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Animal rights' campaigners regard hunting as a barbaric sport belonging to an age when cruelty to animals was commonplace.
Moves by MPs to bring in an outright ban had previously been blocked by the House of Lords.
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But, on November 18 last year, House of Commons speaker Michael Martin invoked the Parliament Act, effectively bypassing the Lords, to make it the law.
Yet, despite the political saga, up to half a million supporters of hunting with dogs are expected to continue their ancient tradition, even after a legal challenge against the new law failed at the High Court.
Despite the new laws, the undertaking of "drag hunts" - where hounds follow an artificial scent - will still be permitted.
The Countryside Alliance said hunts and their supporters would try to keep within the law by drag hunting or flushing out foxes and shooting them.
Liz Mort, eastern region director of the alliance, said yesterday: "There is a mix of determination and sadness.
"Obviously we are determined to keep on and get the ban overturned but there is a lot of sadness that finally there is going to be a ban.
"This is a ridiculous piece of legislation that affects far more people than anyone realises. It is nothing to do with animal welfare or fox protection."
She added: "I think a year ago we were saying if hunting was banned the hounds would be shut up and people would be out of work.
"Now it is very encouraging as there is an enormous amount of determination that that will not happen; that people will keep going and the ban will be repealed.
"We are not going to throw in the towel and we will carry on fighting for as long as it takes."
Roger Clark, a farrier based at the Tendring Hall estate, estimated that 25% of his work is hunting orientated during the winter.
"The spin off of that is not just losing revenue. To train other farriers you need a good turnover of horses. Those that are willing to take apprentices will fall dramatically so it will have a considerable effect."
Hunt supporters claim it will be extremely difficult for the police to distinguish the difference between legal and illegal hunts.
Police federations have also expressed concerns about the difficulties of enforcing the law.
But a spokesman for Suffolk police said: "The legislation comes into force today and it's going to be enforced by police.
"An offence is committed when a person hunts a wild mammal such as a fox with a dog.
"Those who break the law will be reported or arrested as appropriate and put before the courts. The maximum penalty for hunting with a dog if found guilty in a magistrates court is a £5,000 fine.
"It's important to remember the law cannot be breached unintentionally. If you are walking your dog and it runs after a wild animal you're not going to be in breach of the law. It's only if the person encourages the dog to go chasing.
"If someone tells us someone is breaking the law we will go to investigate. We will not be out following lawful hunts."
Anti-hunt campaigners are already planning to help the police monitor hunts so that they do comply with the law - the League Against Cruel Sports has set up a system called Hunt Crime Watch.